HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Woman Led Fight to Legalize Medical Marijuana
Pubdate: Sat, 29 Dec 2007
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The Record
Author: Karen Kawawada, Record Staff


KITCHENER - In recent years, when people saw Catherine Devries of 
Kitchener, they saw a tiny and obviously ill woman who needed to use 
a wheelchair when she managed to get out of bed at all.

But her family and friends don't remember the trail-blazing 
medical-marijuana activist as frail. Anything but.

"Cathy was a very, very strong fighter," said her father Carl 
Devries. "She would not give up even when her life was extremely 
difficult for her."

Catherine died last Sunday in St. Mary's Hospital, at the age of 49. 
Most of her life, she had struggled with a host of health problems and pain.

Her origins are a bit of a mystery. All Carl and Elly Devries know is 
that they saw an adoption ad in a Toronto paper in the late 1950s.

In those days, it wasn't easy to find families wanting to adopt 
mixed-race children such as little Cathy, but Carl and Elly were more 
than willing.

As Dutch immigrants, they knew about being outsiders. They had also 
just lost their second child. They took Cathy in at the age of 17 months.

Later, they adopted a second mixed-race child, Tim. Cathy always got 
along well with both him and her older sister Linda, said her parents.

Cathy was a happy, outgoing child. When she moved to Ottawa with her 
family at the age of nine, she immediately introduced herself to her 
neighbours. When the family went camping, as soon as the tent was set 
up, she'd be off making friends, remembered Elly.

A five-week trip to Holland in her early teens started lifelong 
relationships with relatives there. Even in her last days, she 
treasured pictures of her long-dead grandparents.

Young Catherine was athletic and excelled in track and field.

But the way her parents remember things, it was an accident in a race 
that really set off her health problems.

Catherine told The Record in 2005 the problems started at age 12, 
when she bent down and sudden pain shot through her leg.

But the episode her parents remember was a few years later, when she 
crashed into a wall during a relay race, fracturing her spine.

After that crash, she was in traction for six weeks, then had 
surgery, the first of several. But the surgeries may have hurt more 
than helped -- there were complications, infections and side effects 
from drugs, Carl said.

Later she was diagnosed with inflammation of the arachnoid lining, 
which protects the brain and spinal cord. Arachnoiditis can be caused 
by spinal trauma or surgery, and it causes chronic pain and bowel problems.

Her health problems didn't permit her to finish high school in the 
regular way. She got her diploma by correspondence as an adult, 
accomplishing a goal that was important to her, Elly said.

There were better times and worse times, health-wise. During a better 
period, in her late teens and early 20s, she did some work as a 
wheelchair model. Her parents like to remember how beautiful she was 
in those days.

Around that time, she moved from Ottawa to Kitchener, where she had friends.

She seemed well on the road to being independent, Carl said.

But more health problems interfered. Unable to work, she lived on a 
small disability pension. As far as her parents know, she was never 
in a serious relationship and her health was too fragile to consider pregnancy.

Still, Catherine loved children and was friendly with several in the 
neighbourhood, Elly said. Catherine wrote several children's stories, 
which she shared with family and friends.

The more public side of her was her activism. She was one of the 
first Canadians to be legally allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes.

"Catherine fought very hard for that licence," said fellow 
medical-marijuana activist Alison Myrden of Burlington. "She was one 
of the first people to speak up about it and she should be recognized 
for that . . .

"She knew cannabis worked for her. I watched the difference when I 
saw her smoke. She'd go from lying in bed and slumping over and 
falling asleep to sitting up and talking a mile a minute. It was 
incredible, the transformation."

In 2000, police seized 21 grams of marijuana she had ordered from 
B.C.'s Compassion Club, which provides the drug to sick people. 
Devries went to court to get it back, and won.

In 2002, Devries joined Myrden and seven others in suing the federal 
government for better access to quality pot.

The activists argued it wasn't right for people legally allowed to 
use marijuana to have to buy from dealers.

They also won, although Myrden says the situation now is still far 
from perfect.

In the last few years, Catherine's health took a turn for the worse, 
but she kept fighting. Twice, doctors told her death was near, but 
she surprised them, Carl said.

"She was such a positive girl, always saying, 'I can handle this; I 
will get better,' " Elly said.

A few months ago, when Catherine was unconscious, Elly sat with her 
and sang her Dutch songs she had sung to her as a child. A few days 
later, Catherine called and sung them back to her, Elly said through tears.

"It was unbelievable."

More recently, doctors told her she might not make it to Christmas. 
Catherine told them she would, but for the first time, she was wrong.

Her family will receive visitors at Kitchener's Ratz-Bechtel Funeral 
Home at 621 King St. on Saturday, Jan. 5, from 3 to 5 p.m. 
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